On the Upper West Side, near the Trump International Hotel and Tower, the festivities got underway at 10 a.m. Vendors held out hats and flags, and children sold Girl Scout cookies. People brandished signs that said “A woman’s place is in the White House,” “Squirrel Hill stands against gun violence” and “AOC [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] is my Queen.” A television news helicopter thunked by and thousands cheered.
They were here for the third annual Women’s March.
Days earlier, the Democratic National Committee disaffiliated itself from Women’s March, Inc.—the national outfit responsible for the Women’s March on Washington—whose co-chairs have been charged with making anti-Semitic remarks during a meeting in late 2016.
This year, in cities across the country—New York and Iowa City, Los Angeles and Boise, San Francisco and Houston—local activists marched in support of a progressive agenda centered on economic justice, racial justice, immigrant rights, disability rights and other concerns. Many gatherings were billed on the Women’s March, Inc. website as “sister marches.”
Some statewide chapters and local marches have underlined their financial and organizational independence from the national group. The San Francisco march, for instance, wrote on its event page that it is “self created, self managed, and self funded; we do not get any funding from WM DC Chapter (a.k.a. National) and we rely solely on donations from our community.”
“It was a protest against Trump, but there were a lot of signs about love and tolerance and inclusiveness.”
Stacey Shaffer, of San Francisco, marched in 2017, 2018 and 2019. Back in 2001, Ms. Shaffer and other Bay Area residents convened near San Francisco’s Civic Center to protest the incoming Bush administration. “It was comforting to be around other people who were dismayed by [George W. Bush’s] election,” she said in an email. But compared to the 2017 anti-Trump march, the 2001 protest was a small affair.
“ felt like we were part of something important, and even in the pouring rain, everyone I encountered was in good spirits,” Ms. Shaffer said. “It was a protest against Trump, but there were a lot of signs about love and tolerance and inclusiveness.”
Of the 2018 march, Ms. Shaffer said, “The weather was better, but there weren’t as many people, although the streets were crowded enough. After a year of Trump, there was more outrage. Many of the protest signs were angrier.”
The 2019 march in San Francisco drew even fewer people than last year, she said, but the mood was friendly. One man “told me there were a lot more young people participating this time around, but I spoke to a couple of others who didn’t agree.”
Ms. Shaffer draws inspiration from St. Agnes Church, the Jesuit parish and sanctuary church she attends in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco. The church sponsors a family of asylum seekers, who have vitalized Ms. Shaffer’s activism.
Jackie Semmens marched in Helena, Mont., in 2017 and 2018. Like Ms. Shaffer in San Francisco, Ms. Semmens said there were more people at the first march than the second.
This year, Ms. Semmens said she was not planning to march. She does not feel as though it will make much of a difference to the state’s elected officials.
“The 2017 march was amazing, especially for Montana,” she told America. “Around 10,000 people showed up to march when it was around 13 degrees out. Even my 80-something grandmother-in-law marched. The 2018 march was much smaller, around 2,000 people. But that was because individual towns around the state held marches, which hadn’t happened in large scale in 2017.”
This year, Ms. Semmens said she was not planning to march. She does not feel as though it will make much of a difference to the state’s elected officials. “That’s not to say I don’t think marching and visibly standing up against things like racism, separating children and parents, or the destruction of the environment is unimportant….But right now I don’t think [my representatives] are listening, and I want to figure out the best way to use my time.”
In addition to a march in Helena, organizers in Missoula, Mont., held a vigil for murdered and missing indigenous women.
In New York City, two separate gatherings took place—one uptown, another downtown. The former, which started on Central Park West, was organized by Women’s March Alliance, the local group that put together the 2017 and 2018 marches. The latter, a “Women’s Unity Rally” in Foley Square, was organized by a chapter of Women’s March, Inc., after a squabble between local and national organizers. According to a report in The New York Times, the local group holds “the only parade permit that the police department would issue.” The national group asked to join forces with them, but disagreements arose and the partnership was never realized.
Uptown and downtown, marchers and rally goers chanted about health care, gun control and sex trafficking, among other legislative priorities. A number of signs alluded to abortion rights, while many others emphasized immigration reform. Some people heckled the Trump administration, waving posters adorned with the president’s photo and, occasionally, expletives.
Linda Kemp, a resident of the Bronx, attended the Upper West Side march with her elementary school-aged granddaughter and other members of a Bronx-based organization called Bringing the Peace. The group teaches children about political advocacy and community service.
Holding a pink poster, Ms. Kemp hoped to raise awareness about breast cancer. She pressed for increased access to mammograms for women of color.
“Girl power!” Ms. Kemp called to the children with her.
“My power!” they responded.
Holding a pink poster, Ms. Kemp hoped to raise awareness about breast cancer. She pressed for increased access to mammograms for women of color. Last January, her daughter was diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer and has since undergone chemotherapy, a double mastectomy and radiation.
Palpable at the Upper West Side march was a desire to send a woman to the White House. “You’ve got everyone from Warren to Tulsi Gabbard,” said Aimee Vachon, from Westchester County, N.Y., marveling at the range of prospective and declared women candidates. She said she plans to vote for a woman in 2020.
Katharina Kremer and Noor Kaur, first-years at Fordham University, marched with the 100th anniversary of women’s enfranchisement in mind. They commented on the political awakening of Generation Z, exemplified by the #NeverAgain gun control movement. “Our generation wants to raise our voice for things we care about,” Ms. Kaur said.
The Women’s Unity Rally in Foley Square downtown concretized that sense of intergenerational feminism with its choice of headliners: Gloria Steinem and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Ms. Steinem greeted “my friends and co-conspirators” and declared, to some applause, that “the man in the White House is not the president.” She said that the Trump administration has inspired more intense activism “than I have ever seen in my entire lifetime.” She thanked the event’s partners, including Jewish Voice for Peace and the Lower East Side Girls’ Club.
Ms. Steinem also paid tribute to the Lenape, the native people who occupied Manhattan Island before the Europeans. “We only call them Indians because of a very confused white guy called Columbus,” she quipped.
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, who attended the uptown and downtown gatherings, was photographed near the Trump hotel flanked by signs, including one that read “Green New Deal.” (Ms. Ocasio-Cortez has proposed that the House of Representatives draft a plan to make the U.S. economy carbon neutral.)
Asked about charges of anti-Semitism leveled against the national group, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said, “We need to make sure that we are protecting the Jewish community and all those that feel vulnerable in this moment….The reason all of [the march attendees] are coming together is to make sure that the rights of women are protected and advanced. I know in my heart that all the New Yorkers that are coming down here and downtown are coming in that spirit, and not the other spirit.”
The marches this year not only marked the second anniversary of the administration, they also portended the beginning of the 2020 campaign cycle. At the Foley Square rally, a woman in a “Keep America Great” hat stood on the outskirts of the crowd. She cradled a hot-pink “Women for Trump” sign.